Nothing defines our lives like the job we do. It not only provides us with a (fair) wage to earn a living from; ideally, it’s also meaningful. At the same time, work always means working with others. This year’s films present approaches to this topic that could hardly be more different. While some people in desperate circumstances resort to extraordinarily creative ways of earning money, the work of others exposes a moral conflict that is difficult to bear.
The latter undoubtedly applies to Rim, a Tunisian interpreter at asylum proceedings in France. Every day, she experiences how careless answers to skeptically posed questions can bury refugees’ hopes for the future. To the caseworker, every asylum application is just another batch of files waiting to be processed, but to refugees, all their hopes for a dignified life are bundled up in it. Rim is caught between a rock and a hard place. From her own experience of being a refugee, she knows what the right answers are, but as an interpreter, she lends only her voice to those affected; she’s not allowed to intervene in the conversation. Fatima Kaci’s film THE VOICE OF OTHERS (program 9) impressively shows how bureaucratic stringency can gradually destroy people’s morals.
THE VOICE OF OTHERS
Benjamin Kodboel’s documentary CADÁVER (program 5) also takes a look at the topic of migrants and work. Its protagonist is Martín, a mortician in the Andalusian port city of Algeciras. He identifies the bodies of individuals who have died trying to cross the Strait of Gibraltar, which is only a few kilometers wide, informs their relatives, and gives the deceased a dignified burial. Martín is actually someone with a positive outlook on life, but his work leaves its mark on him. Last but not least, there is an almost unbearable contradiction in what he does. His job, and thus his earnings, depend on the daily tragedy in the mass grave that is the Mediterranean Sea. After all, who will dispose of the bodies of the drowned if not him?
Prostitution is work. The now more common term “sex work” spells this out. It’s a kind of service that many people make use of in their desire for physical closeness and sexual satisfaction. Catalina in BORROWED HANDS (program 9) by Adrián Monroy Molina is one of them. This young woman has cerebral palsy, a complex movement disorder that confines her to a wheelchair. In order to have her first sexual experience, she hires a sex worker. But the night doesn’t go as she had hoped. Only when the two decide to indulge in the city’s nightlife does an unexpectedly intense relationship develop between them.
Times of hardship call for creative ideas. The Polish film DEVIL (program 4) by Jan Bujnowski attests to this. In the 1990s, as the opening credits indicate, the strictly Catholic country is suffering from high unemployment. During the crisis, an unnamed young man has developed a lucrative business model of a somewhat different kind: disguised as the devil, he roams the countryside, taking money from devout pensioners in the form of a small fee to forgive them their sins. But one day a widow refuses to go along with the resourceful businessman’s scheme.
In THE FUSE (program 10) by Kevin Haefelin, an aging man named Cassius experiences firsthand how quickly a person can be “disposed of” by one’s employer. Cassius is a garbage collector in the Bronx. During one of his night shifts, he is unexpectedly laid off. With no unemployment insurance and afraid of becoming homeless, he decides to end his life — but for a faulty fuse that thwarts his plans. The search for a new one leads him on an odyssey through the streets of the big city at night, where he ends up finding his very own truth.